Recipe books are so intimate: what other books fall open at the pages most used, with stains and marks where food has splattered, collecting reader corrections and additions in the margins?
For several years the ladies of Barnstaple published a recipe book – in 1909 it was The Barnstaple Book of Recipes, (collected by the Ladies’ Auxiliary Committee of the Barnstaple Branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association), in 1914 it was The Barnstaple Book of Cookery, in aid of The Mayor’s Samaritan Fund.
The recipes are charmingly eclectic: Rosalie Chichester of Arlington Court, contributes a mock fried egg cake (take a sponge cake, put a poached apricot in the middle, and cream all around), a Mrs Linton of Barnstaple helpfully prices up her orange marmalade recipe at about 1 ¾ d per lb, Mrs Huxtable of Newport gives us a kidney omelette, and three contributors send in recipes for Devon Potato Cake.
The recipe book has adverts for local businesses: butchers, dressmakers, garages, carriages, costumiers (corsets a speciality), furniture makers and undertakers are all represented, a delightful snapshot of the High Street before World War One.
The Mayoress of Barnstaple leads with the first recipe in the 1914 edition, with Ox-tail Soup. Mrs F A Jewell was the Mayoress of Barnstaple from 1912-1918 while her husband was the Mayor. She was described as “the Jewell in Barnstaple’s Crown” during the First World War, when she worked hard, spearheading jam drives, sandbag making, egg collecting (dispatching 10,500 eggs to British soldiers), and organising support for Belgian refugees.